Hope for reopening Sagehen may depend on team management

Citizens group proposes employing volunteers to remove trash

Momentum to reopen the Sagehen area to overnight camping has gained some attention from county and public lands officials, but hurdles remain.

Sustained abuse to the area triggered the closure in 2006, and the lower lake levels are exposing archaeological sites, a concern for Forest Service officials.

District ranger Derek Padilla said archaeology surveys are needed before the campground can reopen, but a backlog will delay surveys till 2015.

Lake recreationists and the Montezuma County commissioners hope to speed things up.

The Sagehen Citizens Group has re-formed to help out, says founding member Lloyd Powers. He has been negotiating with Padilla and the county to determine what must happen to reopen the camping area.

"The three issues are cultural resources, trash removal, and law enforcement," Powers told the commission.

One solution would be for the county to pay for the required Class I archaeology survey.

"From the archaeologists I've talked to, that survey type is a fairly simple review that would cost around $1,000 and take a few days," Powers said. "The Forest Service tells me they are open to the idea."

The commissioners were perplexed that additional surveys were needed.

But the commission was willing to consider paying for one more.

"The agreement would need to be in writing that if we do the cultural resource study, they will do A, B, and C," advised county attorney John Baxter.

County officials questioned whether the area is technically closed to camping and were critical of public meetings on the matter after the camping ban. The Aug. 18, 2006, Special Closure Order, signed by Forest Supervisor Mark Stiles, states, "This Order is in effect until rescinded, or Dec. 31, 2009, whichever event occurs first."

It has not been rescinded, and December 2009 has since occurred, therefore it could be argued the order is not in effect. Public meetings were held to discuss the problems at Sagehen, but they happened in May and June, 2007 after the closure order.

"It sounds like they wanted a few years to figure out the problems, but then never got back around to it," said James Dietrich, the community services director for the county.

The problems of garbage removal, illegal off-road use, and adequate law enforcement were also addressed.

"The vandalism and off-road violations were bad, and it continued for years," said Padilla, who was not involved in the initial closure. "Then the public was given the opportunity to correct the problem but nothing was done, so the decision was to initiate the (camping) closure."

Forest Road 500 was a source of off-road access to the surrounding flat terrain. But it has since been closed and is now the nonmotorized Sagehen trail used by hikers, horseback riders, and mountain bikers.

The campground sites and grill pits were on several spur roads south of Road X. During low water, additional controls would be needed to prevent pedestrian and motorized traffic onto the lake bed where cultural resources are exposed.

Forest managers are receptive to a citizens group helping to find a solution. Ideas include using volunteers to remove trash, working with the Montezuma County sheriff for additional patrols in the area, educational signs, and monitoring of the area by responsible campers.

Who would manage the 10-to-15-site campground was discussed. Powers and the commissioners suggested that the neighboring concessionaire at McPhee campground be responsible. But typically a Forest Service campground cannot charge a fee unless there is potable water, restrooms, and trash service. Sagehen only has restroom facilities, and repairs to the composting vault toilet are needed.

Commissioner Keenan Ertel added the lake has a lot of potential, "but over the years campgrounds, bathrooms, marinas, and breakwaters have all slowly disappeared."